Movie Diary 7/27/2016

The Bronze Buckaroo (Richard C. Kahn, 1939). A Western with an all-black cast, with a stock storyline, occasional songs, and a running gag about ventriloquism – which, amazingly, plays a role in the resolution of the tense climax. Part of the “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” box set from Kino.

Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (Spencer Williams, 1940). This black version of Rain mixes in a few other borrowings, as a notorious dancer goes to the Caribbean for an extended gig and rouses the wrath of an uptight preacher. It’s got its share of hotsy scenes, plus a couple of arty shots.

Within Our Gates (Oscar Micheaux, 1920). By turns raw and inspired, this film remains a remarkable addition to the American film canon. Two supporting characters, in particular – each playing a slightly different masquerade intended to make him accepted by white society – stand out for their originality and resistance to cliché.

Movie Diary 7/26/2016

Hell-Bound Train (James and Eloyce Gist, c. 1930). Another item from the “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” set, this time a 50-minute piece meant to be shown in churches (the filmmakers were an evangelist couple). It has the rhythm and imagery of a folk song, as a locomotive to Hades contains examples of sinners (drinkers, gamblers, people who enjoy jazz). Also a man in a devil costume, rejoicing at each transgression. This is the real deal, unfiltered American folklore.

The Exile (Oscar Micheaux, 1931), The Girl from Chicago (Micheaux, 1932), Veiled Aristocrats (Micheaux, 1932). Early-sound items from the astonishing entrepreneur Micheaux, whose fluid silent-movie style took a hit when sound came in. These three take on political issues, the issues associated with trying to pass for white, and displacement.

Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass, 2016). Matt Damon returns to the role after nine years, and Greengrass gets rid of the usual scenes of people talking and focuses the film on a series of suspense scenes. Not a bad way to approach it. (full review 7/29)

Movie Diary 7/25/2016

Dr. Broadway (Anthony Mann, 1943). Mann’s feature debut, a spirited B-picture that was evidently meant to be a series but stalled out. The Damon Runyon atmosphere gets a little thick, and Macdonald Carey is (think of word that is the opposite of “electric”) in the lead role, a Manhattan physician who mixes with underworld characters. But otherwise it’s a snappy little picture.

The Guilty (John Reinhardt, 1947). Based on a Cornell Woolrich story, which surely can’t be as tangled as the movie. It has twins (Bonita Granville), and a stolid narrator (Don Castle) telling his story in flashback, and a neurotic WWII veteran, and some good sleazy atmosphere. Bargain-basement, but gratifying.

The Flying Ace (Richard E. Norman, 1926). I am watching some titles in Kino’s “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” box set (more below). This one’s a murder mystery, shot in Florida, that includes a couple of pilots as characters. A good one. Includes a sequence of a one-legged man firing shots from a rifle (hidden in his crutch) while riding a bicycle.

The Symbol of the Unconquered (Oscar Micheaux, 1920). A KKK-like organization rises up to terrify a black homesteader, in a story with many underlying threads about black people passing as white. Some of the climax, a kind of rejoinder to the Klan triumph in The Birth of a Nation, is missing. The shots of the Klansmen at night – lit only by their torches – are incredible.

Ten Nights in a Bar Room (Roy Calnek, 1926). On the one hand, a well-managed melodrama about Demon Rum. On the other, an entire social system is explored, as a community is revealed to be corrupt at almost every level. The star is Charles Gilpin, an important black stage actor of the era who originated the lead role in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.

Eleven P.M. (Richard Maurice, 1928). Made in Detroit, this fairly daft scenario unfolds as a dream. The crime melodrama is difficult to synopsize, but it culminates in the reincarnation of a man as a dog.

Absolutely Society Lights (This Week’s Movies)


Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart: Cafe Society

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Café Society. “The film finally founders on its inability to find a groove.”

Absolutely Fabulous. “At times they need no dialogue to get laughs.”

Lights Out. “The film exhausts most of the possibilities for how light can be generated and extinguished.”

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words. “Covers only a portion of the man’s Zappa-ness. But it’s an entertaining start.”

Wednesday night, July 27, I’ll be moderating a special members’ event for Scarecrow Video at the Northwest Film Forum, in the company of University of Washington professor Louis Chude-Sokei and Zola Mumford from the Langston Hughes Film Festival. The event will preview an important new DVD/blu-ray release from Kino Classics: “Pioneers of African-American Cinema.” It’s a much-needed five-disc set featuring restored features by black filmmakers from the 1910s to the 1940s. To attend, you have to be a $100-level Scarecrow member (or NWFF member), so as a board member of the Scarecrow Video Project, I can say it’s a good excuse to become a member. There’s more info here.

Movie Diary 7/19/2016

Lights Out (David F. Sandberg, 2016). A horror picture that doesn’t deliver much more than the basic stuff, but sometimes the basic stuff can be effective. Also, it has a real actress, Maria Bello, who provides a bit of an anchor. (full review 7/22)

Movie Diary 7/18/2016

Platinum Blonde (Frank Capra, 1931). First viewing in many years of Capra’s fun, loose comedy about a wisecracking reporter (Robert Williams) in an unlikely romance with a society lady (Jean Harlow) while his reporter pal (Loretta Young) watches patiently. Some of the behavioral stuff points the way toward later Capra atmosphere, including It Happened One Night. Williams, a lively comic presence, died a few days after the film opened.

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011). The material itself limits this stage adaptation from becoming any kind of great movie, but it’s still compelling to watch the way action unfolds in the space of a single apartment. And Polanski is one of the great apartment directors.

Captain Ghostbusters Life (This Week’s Movies)


Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnen, Leslie Jones: Ghostbusters

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Ghostbusters. “The high spirits are maintained from the ectoplasmic opening to the very end.”

Captain Fantastic. “It’s all so very civilized, and after a while the movie’s slick style begins to feel like the opposite of Ben’s experiment in raw living.”

The Infiltrator. “Really done right, it would be 10 or 12 hours of longform TV.”

Life, Animated. “When his parents are preparing to drive him to his new condo, Owen needs to slow down the departure. ‘Can we watch three scenes from Dumbo first?’ he reasonably requests.”

Sunday night July 17 I’ll participate in “Red Rain and Monsters: A 200th Anniversary of the Shelleys and Byron at Lake Geneva,” a theatrical event exploring the “haunted summer” that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, among other things. The event is free, begins at 7, and more info can be found here.



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